Wednesday, July 1, 2009

More on traveling to Kananga

Our airport departure to Kananga went pretty smoothly. All of the other travelers in the group had sent their bags to the airline’s central office a day in advance. This is standard practice here to avoid everything that can happen when checking in at the airport. Due to the reasons mentioned in my previous blog entry, I was not able to do so.

There are tons of fees, and it is sometimes hard to determine what is official and unofficial. All of those fees that are added to tickets purchased in the US (when you see a ticket that lists at $200 + $200 various airport fees) are paid separately at separate windows. Usually, you get a receipt. There was a protocol assistant there to give our group a hand with all of this; typically his job is to handle all of the money. Everything, despite the chaos, was pretty straightforward.

After we arrived, my bags had been carried into the terminal by two porters as is standard practice. Before I could tip them, one told me it would be $5 per bag. Since $5 is an average daily salary in Kinshasa, I respectfully laughed at them, knowing a proper tip to be to be more like 500FC (Franc Congolais) or about $0.60. They were surprisingly insistent and unwilling to negotiate, so I told them that they could talk to the protocol who was helping us and ask him for $5. (He was in line waiting to pay one of the taxes.) At first they said, no, they were asking me. I said, he is the boss. They said, no, you are the boss. Anyway they refused what I was offering and went to wait for the protocol. At that point, two police officers asked them to step outside of the terminal. They refused, since they had not been paid, and were physically thrown out by the officers. Nobody was hurt or anything, but then they were outside banging on the window.

My bags—one of which I was carrying for someone else—were overweight. This involved being weighed at the check-in counter. They wrote a bill for the overcharge of $8US. The protocol took the bill to another office in the airport and paid it. Then he returned to the check-in counter with a receipt stamped paid was able to check the bags. This process took about an hour and the two porters were waiting for us on the other side of the terminal, where we were about to pass through security. I reminded the protocol to tip the porters, which I am sure he did.

After we passed through security to enter the departure lounge we were called into a small office. I was selected the head of the group because I am the only person who speaks French. No problem. I understand enough about these things that I am comfortable to be by myself with two airport officers and our 9 US passports. I could tell that what they are doing is official—they are entering our names, passport, and visa numbers by hand into a ledger. No computers (even though this is the main airport in a city of 10 million people). This is required for domestic travel. As he was copying the information, the power went off so I borrowed a flashlight to help him copy down the numbers. Throughout the entire process, I made the appropriate small talk. At some point, however, another member of our group realized that the officials were from the Kasai and came in speaking Tshiluba, which is usually charming. So the one guy started speaking to her in Tshiluba, asking for money, which he had never mentioned it to me. It seemed like she agreed, but I couldn’t follow the conversation. (The man asking for the money seemed to be some sort of a supervisor; a different uniformed man was copying our information into the ledger.) Another member of the group outside of the office was getting a little bit nervous, but I assured her that everything was on the up and up and that we would not pay anything additional. So after the information was entered into the book by flashlight, the supervisor took our passports and escorted us into the lounge. I was thanking him and trying to politely get our passports back—the sooner the better and the less chance he would ask for any kind of money. Through a combination of insistence and politeness, I get them back and he still never mentioned money to me. He then goes to speak to the other woman with our group and I think she gave him some money (though I never found out), but at that point I think she realized that she was not paying an official fee.

When we arrived at the airport in Kananga, we deplaned on the tarmac and there were a bunch of people standing around. One guy was pretty insistent that we needed to give him our passports and go to the office. In fact, he was so insistent (je suis ici pour vous) that I quickly realized that he was not there for our group, even though he told me he was. Anyway, we walked to the terminal and met the others who were there and really waiting for us.


OK—I really haven’t explained much about what I was doing in Kasai and promise to explain a little bit more later in the week. Briefly, I did see a sewing school for single mothers, a Jesus film dubbed into Tshiluba, a former colonial hotel (ironically called PAX) that has been turned into a medical clinic, and a university named for a 19th century African American missionary.


Yesterday was Independence Day and my mother’s birthday! Happy Birthday Democratic Republic of Congo and Mom. The former is 49 years old.

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